As the Shelby
County Commission voted Monday to hold interviews with potential candidates for
interim state representative in House District 89 on Tuesday, April 2, with a
vote on the interim member scheduled for a week later, on April 9, contests were
developing on the Democratic side of the aisle - both for the interim position
and for the right to serve as permanent member via a subsequent special
What amounted to the first one-on-one encounter between Bailey and Norman took
place Monday night at the Pickering Center in Germantown through the auspices of
the Germantown Democratic Club.
Two Democrats were being talked up, as of Monday, to serve as interim state
representative -- activists David Holt and Mary Wilder. Holt was
the subject of something of a draft movement among local progressive bloggers,
while Wilder was being pushed by longtime activist/broker David Upton.
The real surprise is that, in the looming special election primary, Democrat
Kevin Gallagher is losing ground among erstwhile supporters. Gallagher had
been considered a tacit consensus choice and a virtual shoo-in after yielding to
Former District 89 representative Beverly Marrero in the District 30
state Senate special election, which she won.
Since that understanding was reached, however, Gallagher, who served most
recently as campaign manager for 9th District congressman Steve Cohen,
has alienated many of his former backers -- both through acts of omission (some
considered him too remote a presence during Marrero's special election race with
Republican Larry Parrish) and acts of commission (he has had a series of awkward
personal encounters with members of his support base).
Rapidly gaining support for the permanent seat among Democrats is another
longtime activist, Jeannie Richardson -- who has picked up backing (some
of it silent for now) with both Upton, her original sponsor, and with members of
the blogging community who don't normally see eye to eye with Upton.
All of this was occurring on the eve of another important vote among Democrats
-- that for local Democratic chairman, to take place next Saturday during a
party convention. The two leading candidates are lawyer Jay Bailey and
minister Keith Norman.
Both candidates acquitted themselves well overall, and each made a point of
bestowing praise - or at least friendship and respect - on the other, but each,
too, wielded a rhetorical two-edged sword in the process.
Norman, for example, was able tacitly to benefit from discussion of an
anti-Bailey campaign mailer, even while deploring it. The mailer - a hefty
collection of photocopied court records concerning disciplinary actions taken
(or initiated) against lawyer Bailey--had, as everybody present knew, had been
sent at considerable expense to each voting delegate at Saturday's forthcoming
In his opening remarks, Bailey had left no mystery as to who the sender of the
packets had been.
"I'm proud of being a professional. I'm proud of being one of the people in this
community who went through some things but was able to stand up and see my way
through it....I will not allow my character to be assassinated by innuendo by
someone sending out an anonymous packet who are too afraid to put their name to
it. I'll tell you who it was. It was Richard Fields."
Lawyer Fields, a frequent adversary, had failed to explain that most of the
actions against him had been dismissed, said Bailey. He acknowledged having had
a drug problem a decade ago that was at the heart of a suspension imposed on him
at the time but denounced Fields' packet as the kind of "mudslinging" that had
cost other Democrats elections in the past - "eight judicial races and four
The reference was to Fields' practice, begun last year, of distributing open
letters making the case against various candidates for office.
During his own remarks, Norman expressed solidarity with Bailey on the point,
wondering "where the money came from" for Fields' mailer. "If you haven't won
lawsuits, you don't have that kind of money."
In an apparent reference to Fields' first campaign letter, sent out last year
concerning the backgrounds of several judicial candidates, Norman said he knew
"the party was in trouble" when he saw it, and he cited the fact as one of the
inspirations for his ultimate decision to seek the chairmanship.
"I knew nothing about this stuff," Norman said about the current mailer. "I
don't care what Jay Bailey did 10 years ago." Without mentioning Fields by name,
he criticized "someone who had the audacity and nerve" to put it out, "maybe
trying to make me look bad."
In the course of disclaiming any intention of being judgmental about opponent
Bailey, Norman, pastor of First Baptist Church on Broad, went so far as to
lament the recent firing of an assistant minister at Bellevue Baptist Church for
an act of child molestation - "something that was done 34 years ago."
Of Fields' mailer, Norman said, "I won't stand for it" and noted that he and
Bailey had discussed preparing a formal joint response, but he added pointedly,
"Because it was against Jay, I wanted him to address the issues. That hasn't
The two candidates agreed that unity across factional lines was a high priority
for the party and that the high incidence of corruption among elected officials,
many of them Democrats, was a major problem, but they seemed to differ about the
degree of loyalty owed by the party chairman or the party as a whole to
candidates running as Democrats.
"There are times that we have to make difficult decisions " about whether to
support particular Democrats, Norman said, speaking of those with ethics issues.
"We can't go around co-signing everybody's loan. We're tearing our credibility
While agreeing that candidates with conflicted personal situations ought to be
counseled with - "either to work their way through it or to work themselves out
of the race" - Bailey laid greater stress on unconditional loyalty to a formal
Democratic ticket, once selected by the electorate in a primary. He also urged
strong support of issues important to organized labor, a traditional Democratic
As evidence of his ability to cross factional lines and improve the fortunes of
the Democratic Party, Norman cited both his pastoral history and his former
career in he business world doing "turnarounds" of sagging commercial
He noted the examples of East St. Louis and Gary, Indiana - two municipalities
blighted by economic distress and civic corruption. "Memphis is about 25 light
years away that," Norman warned somberly.
Democrats will choose between the two candidates on Saturday at Airways Junior
High, site of the preliminary party caucus four weeks ago.
to be seen whether the field of candidates is complete for the Memphis mayoral
election. Various names are still being talked up, and one of them, despite his
conditional disclaimer of last week, is Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton,
who backhandedly acknowledged this week that he is still being hotboxed to run
for city mayor - by members of the business community, according to reports.
"I won't kiss and tell," was Wharton's somewhat cryptic response. The county
mayor has said he won't run against incumbent mayor Willie Herenton. The
implication was that if Herenton ceased being a candidate for any reason,
Wharton himself might very well take the plunge.
Call, a Washington, D.C. insiders' publication, published an article last
week about Rep. Cohen's relatively high-profile tenure in office so far and
speculated on the kind of opposition he might face in a 2008 reelection bid.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, the article mentioned as likely opponents several of
the leading candidates against Cohen in last year's election - Jake Ford,
Julian Bolton, Ron Redwing, Ed Stanton and others.
Perhaps the most frequently mentioned of likely adversaries, also cited in the
Roll Call piece, is Nikki Tinker, the Pinnacle Airlines lawyer who
was runner-up to Cohen in last year's Democratic primary. Tinker is making the
political rounds and was one of the attendees at Monday night's forum for
Democratic chairmanship candidates.
Tinker declined to comment "right now" on her intentions.
This week, members of both major political parties were mourning the death of
Roy Turner, longtime leader of the local Steamfitters. Though a nominal
Democrat who was a member of the party's executive committee from time to time,
Turner had also served Republican office-holders in county government in recent
years, and, at endorsement time, he made sure that his union did not close ranks
against political candidates on the basis of party label alone.